Join me this evening for the School Board meeting at 5:30 p.m.
Here's the board packet for the meeting, including personnel changes, contracts up for approval, and more.
- Mary Pasciak
November 30, 2011 - 11:27 AM
Join me this evening for the School Board meeting at 5:30 p.m.
Here's the board packet for the meeting, including personnel changes, contracts up for approval, and more.
- Mary Pasciak
November 30, 2011 - 9:22 AM
The first half of December likely will see some pretty interesting conversations about education here in Buffalo.
District officials, of course, will be putting the finishing touches on their plans for seven of the city's low-performing schools. At the same time, though, a bunch of high-profile voices in education will find a forum here.
For more than 20 years, he has been president and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone, which currently targets a 100-block area of Harlem with a variety of social, educational and medical services for children from birth through college.
Canada will be the keynote speaker at an education summit hosted by the education task force of the Community Action Organization of Erie County. "Power of Education - Children First" will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 16 at the Adam's Mark Hotel downtown.
Tickets to the luncheon are $40. Reserved tables for eight are also available for $400. Proceeds will benefit CAO's Education Task Force Scholarship Fund to help low-income, college-bound students throughout the county. For more info, call CAO at 881-5150, ext. 4399.
In addition to Canada's keynote speech, CAO is also planning a panel discussion for the education summit. Details are still being worked out.
CAO's education summit will come on the heels of the first Parent Assembly meeting, which looks as though it's going to draw quite an interesting group of presenters.
(Parent Assembly, remember, is designed to bring together a parent rep from every classroom in the city schools, for a total of about 1,300. It will meet from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 8 at Performing Arts, 450 Masten Ave. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. I'm told the meeting is open to the public.)
According to Sam Radford, who's organizing the event, here's the lineup for the Parent Assembly meeting:
After some introductory remarks from District Parent Coordinating Council Co-Leen Webb, Interim Superintendent Amber Dixon and federal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Education Jason Snyder will speak.
At about 6:45, Gene Chasin from Say Yes to Education will make a half-hour presentation about what his group would like to bring to Buffalo. (Here's our story about Say Yes and its tuition guarantee for public school graduates, as well as its approach to district governance and service delivery.)
Following that, officials from the local and state levels will talk about partnerships with parents and issues related to family engagement. The lineup includes BTF President Phil Rumore, Regent Bob Bennett, NYS Assistant Secretary for Education Katie Campos, Mayor Byron Brown, Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples, and Councilman Demone Smith.
- Mary Pasciak
November 29, 2011 - 12:05 PM
Today's story focuses on Elmwood Village Charter School's plans to move into the former School 36 on Days Park.
One of the sidenotes in that story, though, is just as interesting as the main focus: because of the pending move, Elmwood Village is looking into providing busing to its students.
Currently, it is one of four elementary-level charter schools in Buffalo that does not provide transportation. The other three: Buffalo United, Westminster and Tapestry.
The families that can access those schools, then, are either those who live nearby or those who are able to transport their children to and from school.
Keep in mind that, under state law, charter schools must hold a public lottery to assign their seats. That means that charter schools must use a random process for selecting their students. The only kids who can legally get preference are those with a sibling already attending the school.
First, remember that throughout the Buffalo Public Schools, 77 percent of students come from families poor enough to qualify for free or reduced lunch, according to the most recent numbers available from the state. (These figures are from 2009-10, as are all the numbers cited here, as they are the most recent available from the State Education Department.) So across the city as a whole, that's how many kids qualify for subsidized lunch.
Now, let's consider Westminster Community Charter School. It is located in one of the poorest ZIP codes in Buffalo, 14215. The vast majority of kids at Westminster come from the immediate neighborhood. Of the kids at Westminster, 85 percent qualify for subsidized lunch. That's 7 percentage points higher than the public schools across the entire city.
Buffalo United Charter School does not offer yellow bus service to students, but does offer NFTA bus passes (the school's oldest students are in eighth grade). The school is located just off East Amherst Street, a stone's throw from Bennett High School, in the 14214 ZIP code -- also one of the poorest parts of the city.
Students at Buffalo United getting subsidized lunch: 91 percent.
Next up, Tapestry Charter School.
Until recently, Tapestry had been located more or less along the southern edge of the Delaware District (or Elmwood Village, if you prefer that term), one of the most affluent parts of the city -- and now is located on Great Arrow Drive, just north of that part of town.
(Tapestry, it's worth noting, is a K-12 school, unlike the other three we're talking about. Students at Tapestry High School get NFTA bus passes and therefore, it stands to reason, are more likely to come from various parts of the city. The school's subsidized lunch rate, though, is calculated on a schoolwide basis, so there's no way to separate out the elementary portion of the school.)
Students at Tapestry who qualify for free or reduced lunch: 33 percent -- the lowest of any charter school in the city.
In at a close second, though, is Elmwood Village Charter School -- where 36 percent of kids qualify for subsidized lunch.
Elmwood Village Charter School is located on Elmwood Avenue, near Allen Street -- at the southern edge of the Delaware District. (Officials there note that the school is also very close to the less-affluent Lower West Side.)
So, to review, both Tapestry and Elmwood Village charter schools have a subsidized lunch rate less than half that of the city's public schools as a whole.
That's a fact.
Consider, too, that Tapestry and Elmwood Village consistently score among the best schools in the city on standardized tests.
That's a fact, too.
(You can check it out for yourself. Here's the database of math and English scores from 2011.)
Educational research consistently establishes a strong correlation between students' family income and students' academic outcomes. In fact, family income one of the strongest predictors of outcomes. Schools in the wealthiest communities -- Clarence, Orchard Park, Amherst -- consistently get the best results.
That's largely why Business First's annual ranking of the schools never turns up any shockers.
Now, I'm not saying that those suburban schools are not doing a good job -- just as I'm not saying these particular charter schools are not doing a good job.
What I am saying is that the research clearly has established that schools serving more affluent students are statistically far more likely to produce better results. Something in the neighborhood of three-fourths of a school's results can be predicted by the family income of their students.
So back to our charter schools here in Buffalo.
Keep in mind, these schools are within their rights to not provide busing to students. It is their choice.
Tapestry officials have said that they feel it is very important to establish the climate that children experience in school -- and when students spend the first half-hour or more of their day on a bus, school officials can't ensure that that climate will be one of mutual respect.
Tapestry officials have also said that they opt to spend their money in the classroom, not on transportation.
(For the record: Charter schools that offer transportation pay for busing only on days that their school is in session, but the Buffalo Public Schools are not. That means if a charter school has the exact same calendar as the district schools, the charter school would not pay for busing. The district pays for transportation, and the state reimburses 85 percent of the cost. However, charters do pay for any days of busing when they are in session but the district is not. For instance, one local charter that has a 200-day school year -- about 20 days longer than the district -- pays $75,000 a year for those extra days of busing.)
Officials at Elmwood Village have said that their school is on a readily accessible NFTA bus route, and that the school is conveniently located not only for people living in the Elmwood Village, but for people who work in that area and live elsewhere.
As today's story notes, Elmwood Village is considering offering transportation to students once the school moves off Elmwood Avenue and onto Days Park, which is not on an NFTA route.
It will be interesting to see whether the school ends up deciding to offer transportation -- and, if it does, what effect that might have.
(Note: There is one elementary school in the Buffalo Public Schools with a subsidized lunch rate just as low as Tapestry and Elmwood Village charter schools. I'll give you one guess which school that is. Think. Discuss. Come back to School Zone later this week to compare your answer.)
- Mary Pasciak
November 28, 2011 - 10:33 AM
Discussions are underway to fill the general counsel position in the Buffalo Public Schools, now that Brendan Kelleher has returned to the private sector.
The timing, of course, is interesting, seeing as Putrino would almost certainly be out of a job once Chris Collins hands over the keys to the new county executive.
Putrino is no stranger to City Hall, seeing as he spent about six years as assistant corporation counsel under Tony Masiello's administration.
From there, Putrino spent a couple of years as assistant director of employee relations at UB before being tapped by Collins in 2008. Putrino, among other things, is on the board at the Lexington Coop and at Hallwalls.
Look for an official announcement on the general counsel appointment sometime in early December, most likely.
- Mary Pasciak
November 23, 2011 - 3:34 PM
Seven consultants are in the running to help Buffalo find its next superintendent.
But there's one search firm that's getting the most attention: Cascade Consulting, out of Seattle.
Here's why: They would be working with Say Yes to Education, the nonprofit that's thinking about coming to Buffalo.
Say Yes, as we reported over the weekend, brings a multi-pronged approach to reforming a district: a college tuition guarantee for all students who graduate from a public high school and are accepted to college; a collaborative approach to governance, which includes meetings twice a month with county, city, district and union officials; and realignment of resources to provide tutoring, summer programs, health services, counseling and other supports to help kids make it to graduation.
As we know, Say Yes seems to be in the home stretch of nailing down a deal to come to Buffalo.
Simultaneously, the School Board is in the process of selecting a consultant to help with its superintendent search. It's no secret that Say Yes would like to work with Cascade Consulting to conduct that search.
Will the group's decision on whether to come to Buffalo be contingent on the School Board selecting Cascade as its search firm?
Well, nobody's explicitly saying yes.
"We don't know," said Clotilde Dedecker, president of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, one of the people leading local efforts to bring Say Yes here.
Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey, president of Say Yes, says her group's decision is not contingent on the board hiring Cascade.
It's worth noting, though, that last week, when the board was given a list of the seven consultants in the running, the first question, from Florence Johnson, was: "We're wondering which of these firms is associated with Say Yes."
In Syracuse, Say Yes got involved with the superintendent search by working with Cascade Consulting. (That opening arose well after Say Yes had established itself in that district.)
The search was notable, many say, for its efforts to include community input along the way. For instance, there were four community forums, along with an online survey, to find out what residents wanted to see in a new superintendent.
The search there led to two finalists: Grand Rapids, Mich., Superintendent Bernard Taylor and Providence, R.I., Chief Academic Officer Sharon Contreras. The finalists' names became public after the parent group in Syracuse pushed hard for the community to have a chance to meet the finalists before the board made a decision.
Several days later, Taylor withdrew, and Contreras was named superintendent.
So now, back to Buffalo.
We have seven firms that submitted proposals to do the superintendent search: Cascade; District Wide Search Consultants, out of Old Westbury, N.Y.; Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, out of Rosemont, Ill.; Proact Search, out of Wilmette, Ill.; Ray and Associates, Inc., out of Manahawkin, N.J.; School Leadership, LLC, out of NYC; and Vince Coppola at the University at Buffalo.
Schmitt-Carey has this to say about the superintendent search in Syracuse:
When the decision was made to seek new leadership, we knew it was critically important that the search be substantively grounded in leadership that embraces this theory of change [regarding the Say Yes approach to reform]. A lot of superintendents don't have this worldview. We have seen limitations around the country in the search process, where a search firm has a pool of candidates in place in different cities and in time, place them in in different cities.
We thought there would be a more effective way to develop a stronger pool of candidates who would lead this kind of effort.
We partnered with Cascade, which has a track record of recruiting the best and brightest -- people who were not looking for jobs. They have a very unique and effective screening process that is able to give school boards insight not only into resumes, but into how people work.
You really need to have somebody who knows how to be collegial and collaborative and transparent.
We partnered knowing we could help to really develop the excitement around coming to the City of Syracuse. When you're looking at the best and brightest, sometimes Buffalo and Syracuse don't come to the top of the list.
Contreras, she said, did not apply for the position in Syracuse, but Say Yes and Cascade "were able to engage her in a conversation."
Backers of Say Yes say that the group did a good job conducting an open and transparent superintendent search that landed a candidate who otherwise would probably not have considered the opening.
Critics note that the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and the Oishei Foundation are heavily involved with efforts to bring Say Yes here -- and wonder whether they are trying to guide the superintendent search from behind the scenes. For some, this dredges up memories of the business community's efforts -- specifically, M&T Bank's Robert Wilmers' efforts -- six years ago to bring James Williams here.
"Wilmers had his turn. Now it's [Oishei President Robert] Gioia's?" one critic said.
Schmitt-Carey as well as local leaders and foundation officials -- including Gioia -- all say that the final decision on who to hire as superintendent rests with the School Board.
- Mary Pasciak
November 21, 2011 - 12:07 PM
Now that Interim Superintendent Amber Dixon has named a chief academic officer, she's about ready to announce her next appointment to fill a vacancy in central office: executive director for human resources.
That department, by pretty much every account I've ever heard -- from BPS job applicants, employees, retirees from that department, people outside the district -- has been in need of some serious help for years.
Valerie DeBerry stepped down as executive director of h.r. in the spring. For the past several months, Eileen Fleming, the deputy director of that department, has been acting in the No. 1 role there.
While James Williams was still superintendent, the vacancy was advertised as associate superintendent for human resources, with the requirements indicating the right candidate needed to have a background in curriculum. The word on the street was that the posting had been tailor-made with a specific person in mind.
But Williams never ended up filling the job before he left.
Once Dixon took over the district, she posted the position as an executive director opening, which is what it has traditionally been.
The official announcement has not yet been made, but in response to my inquiries -- after I heard scuttlebutt that the job would be going to Brown -- Dixon confirmed that he would be moving to central office.
Brown has a master's in business administration and certification in human resources, she said. He also has experience as a principal at the elementary (School 53) and secondary (Performing Arts since 2008) level, assistant principal (South Park High School), and math teacher.
"Darren Brown brings both the leadership and organizational skills I was looking for to the position," Dixon said. "His school experience is critical to creating a human resource department that is responsive to the needs of our schools."
Discussions regarding Brown's replacement, she said, are underway.
Seeing as Dixon's every move is under scrutiny -- as plenty of people are wondering whether she has what it takes to be superintendent for the long haul -- I think it's safe to say that her decision on who to appoint as principal at Performing Arts will be viewed as every bit as telling as her decisions on appointments at City Hall.
If you want to know just how important the principal is at a school, ask the parents at any school with a principal change this year how they feel about it. I guarantee you'll get some strong opinions. A good principal can make all the difference in the world; a bad one can crush even the strongest program.
Let's see what Dixon's idea of a good principal is.
- Mary Pasciak
November 20, 2011 - 7:52 AM
One of the most confusing things for parents living in Buffalo is figuring out how to register your child for the public schools.
It doesn't help that the deadline for registration is usually the first week in December -- a full nine months before school actually starts the following September. And this year, the deadline is even earlier -- Nov. 28.
(Go ahead -- just try finding this info on the Buffalo Public Schools website. I dare you. Oh, it's there. Kind of. But you have to find it. First, you have to know enough to look under Departments on the top menu. Then you have to know to look under Central Registration Center, which doesn't sound to me like it has much to do with children. Once you get to that page, you'll see a deadline off to the right. Except that it's not the correct deadline. Oy.)
It almost seems as though the district goes out of its way to make it difficult for parents to navigate the system. I've heard board members complaining about it for a year and a half now -- but parents I talk to are still every bit as confused as they were when I started covering this beat.
So here's some info to help you navigate the system.
Do me a favor. Spread the word. Post this on Facebook. Print out copies and pass them out at your child's preschool. Tell every parent you bump into at Wegmans.
The first thing you need to know is that you have to get a copy of the student registration application. They are supposed to be available at student registration, 33 Ash St., as well as every school in the district.
Although I've heard from more than one parent that that's not the case. One mother was practically in tears when she emailed me to tell me that she started hunting down an application at City Hall. You know, that place where the people who run the district work. Well, they didn't have any applications there.
They told her she could get an application at an elementary school. Guess what? The school she went to didn't have any applications. Finally, she landed one at Ash Street. So here's the moral of that story: If you're planning to pick up an application somewhere, call ahead and make sure they actually have applications.
District spokeswoman Elena Cala tells me that applications were also sent to Head Start programs, private schools and charter schools. Again, if you're planning to pick up an application at any of those places, I'd strongly advise you to call ahead.
Curiously, you can't find a copy of this mysterious application anywhere on the BPS website.
So guess what? I scanned one in and uploaded it for you. Here it is: a pirated copy of the 2012-13 BPS student application.
But pay attention: You can read it, print it, and use it to familiarize yourself with your choices. But you cannot actually fill this out and submit it to the district. You have to get one of the BPS-authorized original applications.
You see, I thought it would make things easy for people like you if I could upload a copy of the application and save people a trip down to Ash Street. So I asked Cala if that would work.
No, she said. Because apparently once Ash Street gets your application, they scan it in. And if they try to scan in a printout of that pdf I uploaded for you, certain arrows won't line up, and it won't scan properly.
So, sorry, folks. I tried.
But at the very least, you can use my pirated application to get some pretty important info.
The vast majority of students are placed through a computerized lottery process. (Programs that have some criterion for admission, like City Honors or Olmsted, work differently. You can find info on those admissions processes on Page 3 of the pdf.)
(For those of you who are wondering: This application is only for schools in the Buffalo Public Schools. Charter schools have a completely separate application process. Each charter school runs its own admissions lottery. Their deadlines are generally in early April. That will be the subject of another blog post down the road.)
So back to the info you will find in this pdf for public schools in the general lottery.
On the first page, you'll see the age requirements for kindergarten and pre-k throughout the district -- as well as the three-year-old program at Bennett Park Montessori. (Yes, there is a free, all-day, public program in Buffalo for three-year-olds. It's another one of those resources that the district doesn't seem to want people to know about.)
That first page also explains that if your child has a sibling at the school you want him/her to attend, he/she will get preference in the lottery. And if you live within 1.5 miles of the school, your child also gets preference.
But here's the catch: You have to make sure you indicate a sibling preference or proximity preference on your application.
Not sure whether you live within 1.5 miles of a certain school? I'm told the BPS transportation people double-check proximities. In other words, you're better off putting down a proximity preference on the application. If it turns out you live more than 1.5 miles away, they'll weed you out. But if you do not put down a proximity preference -- and it turns out you do live within 1.5 miles of the school -- you lose.
Now, the rules are a little different for Discovery School 67 and Olmsted School 64. Both of those set aside a certain percentage of seats for people living in each school's old attendance zone. This is different from living within 1.5 miles of the school. I don't know why. I also don't know why the district does not provide a list of eligible addresses for each school.
But here's the good news: I got both lists from the district. Here's the list of eligible addresses for the Discovery School attendance zone. And here's the list of eligible addresses for Olmsted 64's attendance zone.
(Contrary to popular opinion, there are no neighborhood seats reserved for Olmsted 156, which is a grades 5-12 building. I've even heard one board member say repeatedly that there are neighborhood seats reserved for that school. It's not true.)
Now, back to the pdf of that application.
On Page 2, you will find a list of schools that have made some sort of warning list under No Child Left Behind. If your child attends one of these schools, you are legally entitled to move them to a higher-performing school.
On Page 4 of the pdf, you will find a list of all the programs in the district, the address for each one, the grade range for each one, and an indication of whether uniforms are required. On this page, you will also find the number for each program and a three-letter program code (GEN). (You will find school numbers and program codes for the criterion-based programs on Page 3 of the pdf.)
When you fill out the application, you will need both the number and program code for each school you want to apply to.
The last three pages of the pdf are copies of the pages you are going to have to fill out and submit to Ash Street.
As you'll see, you can list up to five choices. List them in order of your preference.
Things can get a little confusing. In some cases, you can apply for more than one program at the same school. For instance, you can apply for a general seat at Olmsted 64 (in which case you'd use GEN as your program code) -- and you can also apply for a seat in the dual language immersion program there (program code IMP) -- and you can apply for a seat in the gifted and talented program there (program code G/T). So you could, theoretically, put down Olmsted three different times, using a different program code each time.
Legally, the district has to give your child a seat somewhere in the district. But it doesn't have to be a school at the top of your list. A little more than half of applicants get their first choice. Another 20 percent get their second choice.
The final thing you need to know is that the Ash Street center is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday the week of Thanksgiving, and then 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday all other weeks. But remember, the applications are due on Monday, Nov. 28.
Here's the phone number for Ash Street: 816-3717.
If all goes as planned, you should find out by April 15 which school your child got a seat in.
- Mary Pasciak
November 17, 2011 - 1:58 PM
While there are some local critics of the Parent Assembly meeting scheduled for Dec. 8 -- I've heard of at least one principal who doesn't want parents to attend -- apparently the White House thinks it's a pretty good idea.
The idea of the Parent Assembly, remember, is that each classroom in the district will send a parent -- that would be about 1,300 parents -- to get information first-hand about what's happening in the district, then disseminate that information with the other parents in their child's class. (Interim Superintendent Amber Dixon has directed principals to make sure they have a parent there from each of their rooms.)
Well, parent leader Sam Radford invited Arne Duncan to the meeting. Duncan can't make it, but the Department of Education is sending the person in charge of its school turnaround office.
Massie Ritch, a spokesman for the Department of Education, emailed Radford this week:
I am sorry to have been out of touch for a while, but I am returning to you with good news. The US Department of Education would be pleased to attend the forum that you and Supt. Dixon are organizing on Dec. 8 in Buffalo. Deputy Assistant Secretary Jason Snyder, who leads ED's school turnaround office, is able to participate.
We have been in touch with Supt. Dixon, who welcomes our participation, and I will leave it to you and the school district to coordinate with Jason on details. He and the superintendent are cc'd here.
Thank you for this opportunity to talk directly to the Buffalo community, in partnership with the school district, about the important work of improving low-performing schools and involving families in a collaborative process.
Let me know if I can be of further assistance to you.
Dixon said that while Snyder's in town, she'll be meeting with him and taking him on a tour of one of Buffalo's low-performing schools.
- Mary Pasciak
November 16, 2011 - 1:53 PM
Please join me at 5 p.m. today, when I live blog the School Board committee meetings. Highlights are expected to include a report on whether Buffalo could afford to offer free meals to all its students, regardless of whether they submit an application for the free lunch program.
- Mary Pasciak
November 15, 2011 - 12:53 PM
There aren't any School Board races scheduled until May 2013, but the board is about to see its third vacancy in less than a year.
With Chris Jacobs' ascent into the county clerk's post only a matter of weeks away now, it's time to consider what his victory will mean to the School Board.
Because, despite his efforts during the campaign to ignore or downplay his role on the School Board, Jacobs has, in fact, served as an at large member for seven years -- and he has more than two and a half years remaining on his term.
What will happen to his seat?
It will be up to the remaining eight members of the board to appoint someone -- just as the board appointed someone to Vivian Evans' seat and to Pamela Cahill's seat.
A few things are noteworthy here.
This will be the third vacancy to arise in less than a year. Rosalyn Taylor took Evans' seat in January, and Sharon Belton Cottman took Cahill's seat a few months later. (Evans resigned a few months after she moved to Maryland, and Cahill resigned to run for a seat on the Common Council.)
Interesting to note is the fact that, with the appointment of Jacobs' successor, one-third of the board will not have been chosen directly by voters.
You can spin that any way you want.
Critics say the board is creating itself in its own image, and becoming less reflective of the community it represents.
Others say the vacancies are attracting a different type of person, seeing as they don't have to worry about fundraising, campaigning, or worrying about seeking endorsements from any group.
Either way, there looms the question of exactly how the board will go about filling the vacancy.
This vacancy differs slightly from the last two. Evans and Cahill both had seats representing a particular district in the city. Jacobs is an at large member, meaning he was elected by voters across the city.
It seems to be the board's prerogative to decide how they want to proceed.
Board President Lou Petrucci told me that the last time there was a vacancy in an at large seat, a board member representing a particular district moved into the at large seat. And then the board appointed someone to the district seat.
It's an important distinction.
If the board were to fill Jacobs' vacancy with a new member, that would mean any eligible candidate from anywhere in Buffalo could be considered to fill the seat.
But if the board instead moves someone like Petrucci or Mary Ruth Kapsiak into the at large seat, then the vacancy becomes one representing that person's district within the city. And the pool of candidates is pared to only those people living in that part of Buffalo.
- Mary Pasciak